G20 Summit 2023 in India: Leaders Fail on Fossil Fuel Phase-out and Emissions Cuts


G20 Summit 2023 in India: Leaders Fail on Fossil Fuel Phase-out and Emissions Cuts

While the proposed tripling of renewable energy capacity is a positive step, the lack of any mention of fossil fuel phase-out or concrete emission reduction targets is disappointing. Yet, both are indispensable for achieving the Paris Agreement targets.

20 September 2023 – by Viktor Tachev   Comments (0)

The G20 Summit 2023 in New Delhi, India, took place on September 9 and 10, with the summit acknowledging that its decisions would determine “the future of our people and our planet”.  However, the results were mixed. Despite some positives in cracking down on the fossil fuel industry’s interests, G20 leaders failed to take concrete steps to address major issues.

What the Leaders at the G20 Summit in India Agreed On

The G20 Summit in India will remain in history as the one where parties achieved historical consensus on what were long-considered divisive topics, including: 

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Capacity

Leaders agreed to pursue tripling renewable energy capacity globally by 2030. However, the final text has a big asterisk, noting that member nations will pursue such a scenario “in line with national circumstances”. 

The G20 also expressed support for developing green hydrogen markets.

The declaration also calls for a “voluntary action plan” to double the rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.

Funding For Developing Nations

G20 leaders pledged to provide USD 4 trillion in annual investment to support the energy transition needs of developing nations. The final declaration also highlights the need for USD 5.8-5.9 in the pre-2030 period for developing countries to meet their NDCs.

It also called on members to set an ambitious and trackable New Collective Quantified Goal (NCQG) for climate finance in 2024. The goal is expected to exceed USD 100 billion a year and will aim to speed up the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

The G20 also pledged to work on modernising MDBs to address the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable effectively.

Climate Change Adaptation: Loss and Damage

The G20 called for all parties to fulfil their promise and at least double the collective provisions of adaptation finance from 2019 levels by 2025. While no new targets were agreed to, G20 leaders expressed support for the COP27 Transitional Committee’s recommendations. 

The dedicated loss and damage fund for supporting the most vulnerable to climate change is now likely to launch at COP28.

In the final declaration, G20 leaders pledged to contribute to the successful conclusion of the first global stocktake at COP28. The initiative aims to drive enhanced climate action across mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation and support.

The G20 also committed to restoring at least 30% of all degraded ecosystems by 2030. The leaders also promised to scale up their efforts to achieve land degradation neutrality.

Fossil Fuels to Live Another Day After Strong Opposition

The final declaration states: “Global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, with climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, drought, land degradation and desertification threatening lives and livelihoods.”  

Yet, it didn’t address the roots of climate change in the first place.

Prolonging the Life of Fossil Fuels

While the leaders agreed on the need to phase down unabated coal power, they didn’t set any major, concrete targets. The final declaration notes that “national circumstances” will apply to any efforts to phase down unabated coal power. 

Leaders also didn’t discuss any potential reduction in crude oil use. According to Reuters, this indicated that oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia prevailed during negotiations.

“This is a terrible signal to the world, especially the poorest and most vulnerable countries and populations. People at risk of extreme weather events or the brink of starvation cannot wait that long,” warns Friederike Roder, senior director for EU and G20 advocacy and financing at Global Citizen.

The document mentions “fossil fuels” once in the context of phasing out and rationalising inefficient subsidies over the mid-term. Whether or not this translates to meaningful progress remains to be seen. 

Catherine Abreu, the founder and executive director of Destination Zero, considers the commitments to triple renewable energy and increase climate finance notable steps. However, she warns that these measures will only work once we eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and give renewables a level playing field, and countries start cooperating.

Other experts remain pessimistic, such as Shruti Sharma, senior policy advisor for the International Institute for Sustainable Development. 

“For the past 15 years, G20 leaders have consistently reiterated their commitment to reforming fossil fuel subsidies but failed to deliver tangible progress in terms of transparency, timelines and subsidies reduction. In 2022, G20 member nations allocated an unprecedented USD 1.4 trillion in public funds to support fossil fuels,” said Sharma.

Natural gas and LNG weren’t a point of discussion – a clear sign that the G20 don’t find their contribution to the climate crisis and inflationary pressures important.

Silence on Concrete Emissions Reduction Targets

According to reports, Western G20 leaders pushed for cutting GHG emissions by 60% by 2035 during the sherpa-level meetings but faced strong opposition from India, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. The latter also prevailed at the G20 Summit, with the final declaration not mentioning any concrete GHG emission reduction targets.

Christopher Beaton from the International Institute for Sustainable Development warns that climate models demonstrate the need for drastic and immediate GHG emission cuts. 

“It is unacceptable that despite the multiplication of extreme weather events, which are causing suffering and financial losses, G20 leaders once again failed to acknowledge the need to phase down the use of all fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas,” he notes.

Some experts even fail to see any positives from the G20 Summit. “The G20 countries have once again shown that they are not serious about addressing the climate emergency,” states Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network.

Others expect the continuous inaction of global leaders to have significant consequences.

“G20 leaders have collectively failed to deliver anything meaningful on climate change this year. Fossil fuels are killing us, and the G20’s reckless failure to act will be measured in further lives and livelihoods lost,” warns Tracy Carty, global climate politics expert at Greenpeace International.

Opening the Door to Questionable Technologies and Reluctance For Net-Zero Before 2050

The G20 leaders expressed their support for low-emission hydrogen and ammonia. Alternatively, they plan for the extended use of fossil fuel-produced alternatives. 

According to Madhura Joshi from E2G, at the G20, there was far too much talk about expensive, unproven technologies, which can’t serve as an excuse to delay action.

The final declaration states that global leaders would aim for ”global net-zero GHG emissions/carbon neutrality by or around mid-century” but also notes that any such efforts will be conducted “in line with different national circumstances”.

The Implications For India and South Asia

The vague language in the final declaration opens the door for broad interpretation. It can potentially allow countries to continue doing business as usual. 

The failure to commit to a concrete coal phase-down and emissions reduction targets is especially troubling since G20 member countries account for over 80% of global emissions. Furthermore, they will dominate the dialogue at COP28, meaning more of the same can be expected.

In the context of Asia, this means countries will be free to continue growing their fossil fuel infrastructure, mainly gas and LNG. China and Southeast Asia currently account for 60% of the global gas expansion, with 514 GW in delevepmot at the value of an estimated USD 385 billion.

Status of oil and gas plants development
Source: Global Energy Monitor
Source: Global Energy Monitor

The announced support for developing the markets of hydrogen from low-emission technologies, and its derivatives like ammonia, increases momentum for Japan’s aims of exporting its GX technology to developing Asia. Japan’s GX technology has many deficiencies, however, including its stranded asset exposure, economic risks, strong fossil fuel dependence and weak emissions reduction potential.

COP28 Should Make Progress Where G20 Failed

The G20 summit resulted in targets without any clear-cut path towards implementing them.

In the final declaration, the G20 noted that the “global ambition and implementation to address climate change remain insufficient to achieve the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement”. It said that the “cost of inaction substantially outweighs that of orderly and just transitions”. On several occasions, the document notes that the G20 acknowledges climate science and concedes to the IPCC’s conclusions that we will fail to meet the 1.5°C target without rapid reduction in GHG emissions. 

“The G20’s commitment to triple renewable energy is a historic step. But let’s not celebrate just yet,” says Andreas Sieber, associate director of Policy and Campaigns at 350.org. “We must hold them accountable, demand they phase out fossil fuels and lead with urgency,” he adds.

The first such opportunity will be at COP28. However, signs before the conference are worrying, considering the strong fossil fuel lobby will also be involved.

“We need a strong fossil fuel phase-out goal adopted at COP28 and ambitious national targets included in the next round of NDCs,” warns Linda Kalcher, executive director of Strategic Perspectives. We can’t afford a business-as-usual approach for oil and gas companies anymore.”

by Viktor Tachev

Viktor has years of experience in financial markets and energy finance, working as a marketing consultant and content creator for leading institutions, NGOs, and tech startups. He is a regular contributor to knowledge hubs and magazines, tackling the latest trends in sustainability and green energy.

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